The British Dam Society
A growing, inclusive and vibrant society; sharing knowledge and improving reservoir safety

About Dams

Back to designDesigning Dams - Geotechnical engineers

Geotechnical engineers consider whether the rock or soil foundation below a dam is strong enough to support its weight. They check whether the dam foundation is permeable. If it is, then the foundation has to be treated to prevent water from the reservoir leaking out below or around the dam.

They are responsible for designing embankment dams, as they have an understanding of how rockfill and earthfill behave.

Geotechnical engineers investigate the stability of the slopes around the reservoir too. If a landslide into the reservoir occurred, it could cause a large wave that could flow over the top of the dam and cause flooding of properties and deaths downstream. This happened at Vaiont Reservoir in Italy in 1963, and the resulting flood killed about 2200 people.

Some geotechnical engineers spend a lot of time outdoors, collecting soil and rock samples from proposed dam sites. These samples are tested in laboratories to determine their properties, e.g. their strength and permeability.